The Power of Running on Clean Energy — Even for GOP Candidates
Super Tuesday turned out to be Groundhog Day: Three candidates saw their shadows and winter could last for six more months. The presidential nomination process may be grinding on, but Congressional races are starting to heat up.
Candidates are zeroing on their messages, and at a time when jobs are scarce and gas prices are high, smart candidates are discovering the power of running on clean energy.
Even some Republican candidates are promising to deliver clean energy to their constituents.
Nevada Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, for instance, is a Tea Party darling who has followed the GOP leadership’s attack on environmental safeguards. Yet he has also been a staunch supporter of clean energy development in his state.
Why the apparent contradiction? Location, location, location.
Nevada is home to both record unemployment and enormous clean energy reserves. The state suffered some of the worst fallout of the housing bust, and anyone running for office since the financial meltdown has needed a laser-like focus on jobs in order to win.
Green jobs are the low-hanging fruit. Nevada currently has over 16,500 jobs in the clean economy — 33 percent more than the oil and gas sector in the state. Between 2003 and 2010, Nevada added 5,411 clean jobs, meaning that the sector grew nearly 6 percent annually even through one of the toughest economic periods in decades.
This growth won’t be slowing down anytime soon. According to a recent Ernst and Young study, Nevada is the fifth most promising state for geothermal and solar power. And a recent SNL energy project database found that construction has begun on 10 solar, geothermal and wind projects, creating jobs, cutting pollution and reducing our dependence on foreign energy.
Yet in 2010, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle made the mistake of disparaging clean energy and calling green jobs a “scam“. She lost her race to Harry Reid.
Harry Reid, meanwhile, put clean energy jobs at the heart of his campaign. “We highlighted it in everything we did whether it was through our mail program, TV program, Internet program,” said Reid’s campaign manager Brandon Hall. “It was always the message that we led with.”
Reid’s campaign research found that voters were basing vote on how much Reid had done for the state. Clean energy, Hall explained, “was one of the top issues he was able to leverage his leadership position to benefit Nevada. There was investment coming into Nevada in clean energy. And jobs were being created. For us, it was our top-testing issue.”
NRDC’s Action Fund’s analysis confirms that supporting clean energy gives candidates an advantage. It offers a positive, solutions-based narrative to talk about issues that matter most to Americans: jobs, the economy, gas prices, and the health of their families.
Heller seems to agree. One of his campaign emails trumpets the fact that Heller “has long fought to bring a variety of sources of renewable energy to Nevada.”
And it’s true; he has. He voted for a renewable energy standard and has been a supporter of renewable energy production tax credit. He voted to extend royalties and lease income from solar and wind projects and to expedite clean energy development on public lands. He even sent a letter to President Obama in support of the White House’s clean energy plan and its ability to create jobs.
At the same time, Heller voted with GOP leadership on a raft of bills that would strip away clean air safeguards and make life easier for dirty coal-fired power plants. He also voted in favor of taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.
Some of the measures Heller opposed would have helped level the playing field between dirty fossil fuels and clean energy resources. It would benefit Nevada if Heller cast more votes on the clean side.
He wouldn’t be the only Republican to do so. Last month, 21 Republican representatives voted against a GOP-sanctioned transportation bill that would have allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and up and down the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.
These Republican lawmakers seem to realize voters are looking for more than the same-old drill-happy approach to energy development. Instead, voters want innovation, new investment, and job opportunities.
I don’t agree with a lot of Heller’s votes on the environment, but I respect his commitment to clean energy. His track record shows that even Tea Party favorites can deliver clean energy jobs for their constituents.